Last week, the University of Michigan announced a new Center for the Discovery of New Medicines (CDNM) to help speed the school’s research findings to the marketplace. The new initiative is a cross-departmental effort to leverage resources like former Pfizer researchers, unique libraries of compounds, and a culture of data sharing to streamline early-stage drug discovery in an age where big pharma is increasingly reluctant to invest in it.
“Our goal is to really speed up drug discovery at the university,” says Rick Neubig, professor of pharmacology and director of the CDNM. “There’s tremendous interest in that here.”
Neubig says that though there’s a lot of cutting-edge work already being done at U-M in the area of drug discovery, it’s fragmented. The goal of the new center is to serve as a catalyzing hub for research scientists, where they can collaborate and connect with private-sector partners on the journey toward commercialization.
For phase one of the center’s operations, participating university departments such as internal medicine, pathology, and clinical health pooled their money and will distribute roughly $500,000 per year for the next three years in the form of project grants. So-called Rapid Access Seed Grants of up to $10,000 will be available year-round. Twice a year, a competition will be held for grants valued between $25,000 and $50,000. The center expects to fund 10 to 15 projects per year, and U-M faculty members have until Oct. 1 to apply for the first round of funding.
Phase two of the CDNM involves making the operation sustainable. “Right now, we don’t have a physical space, but for phase two we’ll try to pull that together,” Neubig says.
Neubig says the CDNM will be “very engaged” with the university’s tech transfer office, as researchers look for the best way to provide proof of concept and create spin-off companies. “The whole goal is to prime the pump and move drug discovery to the next phase, whether that’s jumping to a spin-off company, licensing, or foundational support,” Neubig explains.
Neubig says that U-M already is poised for drug-discovery breakthroughs in the areas it already excels in—cancer, inflammation, orphan and metabolic diseases, and neurodegeneration—which will help the university compete for National Institutes of Health funding. “We’ve had amazing success in targets pharma has considered undruggable,” he adds. “We think we’ll be able to come up with some really novel medicine.”